Do you believe that you are healthier and happier because you own a pet?
That isn’t your imagination. It’s been proven that pet ownership leads to better physical, mental, and emotional health. In fact, a survey of 217 people found that the pet owners among those polled were happier and healthier than those who did not have pets.
While the majority of information available on the health benefits of owning a pet involve cat and dog ownership, it’s been discovered that even owning a goat or fish can have health benefits.
(baby goat, anyone?)
So does this mean you should run out and get a pet?
That depends. Nobody should get a pet simply to improve their health. They require a lot of care and attention. Keeping them fed, healthy, and happy can be expensive.
It’s also important to remember that the health benefits of keeping a pet often depends on the relationship between the pet and the pet owner. For example, a mother who resents taking care of the family dog because everyone else has absconded on their responsibilities isn’t likely to benefit.
However, if you are ready for the responsibilities of pet ownership, and are in a position to develop an attachment with that pet, go for it!
There are numerous health benefits to owning a pet, and many of them are listed below.
Pet Ownership Can Improve Blood Pressure
If you have high blood pressure you should probably reduce sodium intake, see your doctor regularly, exercise, take your meds, and lose weight. You might consider getting a pet as well. People who acquire pets often find that their blood pressure goes down.
There are likely several reasons for this. People with pets often get more exercise for one thing. Increased happiness and stress relief are also very likely factors. Whatever the case may be, it’s something for those with high BP to consider.
Pet Owners Are Less Likely to Die of Heart Disease
In the same vein, there is evidence that pet owners are less likely to die of heart disease. Just like blood pressure, stress reduction and exercise likely play a part. In addition to this, it’s also very likely that pet owners are happier and as a result are more likely to engage in taking better care of themselves. They may take medicines more willingly, follow doctors instructions, and take part in cardiac rehab after they suffer from a heart related event.
Owning a Pet Can Lead to Better Fitness
As it turns out, the time you spend in your backyard playing with your animal, and even the short walks you take with them a few times a day add up to better health. In addition to this, dogs make great companions for more intense fitness activities. The right breed of dog in good health can accompany you on long bike rides, distance runs, hikes, even head to the beach for some high intensity games of fetch and swimming.
Kids Growing up With Furry Friends Are Less Likely to Develop Allergies
This may seem counterintuitive, but the truth is that kids who grow up with furry pets are less likely to have allergies or to develop respiratory conditions such as asthma. This is according to the department of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin. According to researchers, babies born into homes with pets were less likely to develop conditions such as allergic rhinitis or eczema that are frequently associated with pet allergies.
It may be that this early exposure causes kids to develop a higher tolerance to allergens in the same way that some germ exposure can boost immunity. For expanding families, this is one more motivation to add a pet to the mix, or to keep a pet around when the new baby arrives.
Companion Pets Can Lead to Improved Mental And Emotional Health
Veterans with PTSD, nursing home residents, the mentally ill, the traumatized, the hospitalized, shut ins, and others all have one thing in common. They struggle to function on a daily basis. Further, their conditions often leave them isolated and depressed.
While service animals for the physically ill or disabled have been around for years, recently something new and exciting has emerged. Those suffering from mental and emotional health issues may benefit from owning an emotional support animal. These companion animals can reduce feelings of despondence and loneliness.
While an emotional support animal does not have to be trained to perform specific tasks, in some cases they are. For example, a veteran with PTSD may have a support animal that is specifically trained to help them deal with situations that trigger their symptoms.
Pet Owners Have More Social Connections
It’s well known that an active social life, and connecting with friends is a key component in both physical and emotional health. Owning a pet, can help in this area. Dog owners, for example are more likely to interact with other people when they go out on walks, or take their pets for playtime at the dog park.
Pets are natural ice breakers. They are a convenient reason to start conversations with others. For those who are shy or socially awkward, having an animal nearby can help them cope with often high stress social situations. If you’re an introvert who often finds yourself in the kitchen playing with the dog at parties, you aren’t alone.
Animals Can Play a Role in Physical Rehab
If you’ve ever been to a physical therapy center, you know there is all sorts of equipment to help people who have been injured, suffered a stroke, or endured some other medical catastrophe get back on their feet. What many people don’t know is that horseback riding can also help the injured and disabled improve their health.
Horseback riding can improve balance, coordination, and stability. It’s also great for strengthening core muscles and leg muscles. Because horses are so large, they provide a very secure and stable base. This helps riders to feel more confident and secure.
Kids And Parents Impacted by ADHD or Autism Can Improve With Pet Ownership
A study by the National Institute of Health showed that parents of children had significantly lower levels of stress after acquiring a pet dog. In many cases children with ADHD and Autism benefit as well. In the case of ADHD a pet can give the child opportunities for exercise and interaction. In addition to this, taking on some of the responsibilities of pet ownership can help children increase self-confidence and increase maturity.
Because pets aren’t put off by the physical and vocal tics that many children with autism have, also known as stimming, they can be ideal companions. They provide friendship and unconditional companionship. Their soothing presence can even help reduce maladaptive behaviors.
Pets Can Help People With Chronic Health Conditions
Because of their keen senses, many pets are literal life savers for those suffering from chronic health conditions. Animals can be trained to warn diabetics when their blood sugar becomes dangerously high or low. Dogs can even learn to detect an oncoming seizure in someone with epilepsy. In addition to providing direct health benefits, there is an additional perk for pet owners with health conditions. Owning a pet provides the owner with motivation and obligation to engage in self-care, and can give them something to focus on outside of their condition.
Pets Relieve Stress
Owning a pet is like inviting permanent stress relief into your home. They accomplish this on so many levels. First, physical activity is an amazing source of stress relief. Going on a run with a dog, engaging a cat in play, running in the backyard with animals, or riding a horse all meet the criteria of relieving stress through activity. On the opposite end of the spectrum, things that are calming and soothing can also reduce stress. Something as simple as petting a cat or dog that involves being relatively still and repetitive motion can have a calming effect. According to Harvard Medical School, many companies are now bringing dogs into the workplace to improve morale and reduce stress.
Arthritis Sufferers May Benefit From Owning a Pet
One of the best things for someone suffering from arthritis can also be the most difficult. Movement, while painful, is one of the key factors in beating back the effects of this condition. Unfortunately, it’s difficult for many sufferers to motivate themselves to take walks and stay active. This is where a pet can really help. Dogs in particular give people a reason to take walks, play in the backyard, even swimming with a dog can help improve arthritis symptoms.
Some Dogs Are Natural Heating Pads
There is a unique breed of hairless dog from Mexico that radiates intense body heat. So much so that the animals are trained to work with people who have chronic conditions such as Fibromyalgia. The dogs can nestle against sore muscles or joints to provide the same kind of relief that a heating pad or liniment might provide.
Dogs Can Help Kids to Learn to Read
Many libraries are implementing programs where kids who are learning to read spend time reading to dogs. The dogs, many of whom are shelter animals, benefit from the attention. The kids benefit from having a judgement free listener as they practice reading. This is in contrast to well-meaning adults who frequently urge kids on with prompts or interrupt them with constant corrections. As patient listeners, dogs allow kids to work through their own reading and progress naturally. This means that kids improve their learning skills, and learn to see reading as something fun rather than a chore. While learning to read may not seem to be directly related to health, reading is a stress reducer and improves brain function.
Conclusion: Is it Time For You to Own a Pet?
Improving your overall health is just one of the many reasons that people choose to own pets. Furry, feathered, scaly, and finned companions add so much to our lives. If you’re feeling more motivated than ever to get a pet, that’s understandable. Just take a step back and consider whether or not your are truly ready. Is your current lifestyle conducive to giving a pet the care and attention that it requires? If not, are you willing to make changes?
If you are ready to own a pet, the next step is to do research. It’s important to find a pet that meshes well with your lifestyle. If you have children in your home, it is especially important to get matched with the right animal. Whatever you do choose, please consider adopting from an animal shelter, rescue, or at the very least a reputable breeder.
Not ready to own a pet? That’s okay! You can still benefit. Volunteer to walk dogs for an elderly neighbor or spend time playing with shelter animals. They will benefit from the attention you give them, and you will gain some health perks in the meantime.